By Lizann Lightfoot
Whether they are exotic locations or boring towns in the middle of the desert, military bases certainly give you a unique glimpse at different parts of our country and the world. By the time you leave that post, you are going to have a lot of memories. How can you capture the memories you made and take them with you to all your future homes? Here are some of the souvenirs military spouses collect from different duty stations.
Your family may grow and change at each duty station. Whether you add a pet or a new baby, capture your family at a location near your base that means something to you. Maybe it is the cotton fields near Camp Lejeune or the beach at Pensacola. If you are stationed at Ft. Carson, include the mountains in your photo. Years later, when you are living in a very different climate and your children are older, you will look at the photos from those early days and smile.
- Pros: Great way to capture a moment and a location. Relatively easy to transport to future duty stations. Photos can also be used for holiday cards or “We’re PCSing!” announcements.
- Cons: Professional photo sessions can be expensive and might not fit the budget every year.
We started our magnet collection when we lived in Europe and visited many different cities. Now, when my husband or I go to a new place, we always look for a magnet. Even when he is deployed and we go places separately, it is nice to bring them home and share them with each other afterwards. Sometimes friends around the world send us magnets from places we have never been.
- Pros: Cheap and convenient way to remember a duty station or vacation. Easy to find at any gift shop. Easy to transport during any PCS move. Plastic magnets last a long time.
- Cons: After a few years in the military, they may take up all the space on your fridge!
Many military families turn their duty station resume into art. Popular are hangings that say, “Home is where the military sends us,” with a list of each duty station where the family has lived. This is relatively easy to make yourself, or you can order one online from small businesses on Etsy.
Alternatively, you could print out or draw a map of the United States and place a heart sticker over each base you have been to. This makes a nice souvenir you can take with you and add to as the years go by.
- Pros: Easy to make or buy, affordable, can be expanded for future duty stations, and makes a nice decoration for the home.
- Cons: I can’t think of any! Why don’t I have one of these at our house yet?
Caffeine fans (you know who you are!) collect coffee cups or travel mugs from different bases. My husband has some from various countries and embassies, but his favorite is an Air Force travel mug. (He is a Marine, so no one will touch his Air Force mug!) Most Exchanges will sell mugs, or you can find them at the local Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks is everywhere, even in other countries! There are many creative ways to display your mugs, including a wire mug tree on your counter. Each time you drink your morning mocha, you can see the name of a different base and smile.
- Pros: Mugs are useful and easy to find. You can order custom mugs online.
- Cons: A mug collection takes up a lot of space and can break during PCS moves. (Plus, how many mugs does one family need?)
My kids say that these are their favorite souvenirs. They have a small collection from various trips and family vacations in different parts of the world, and they love to look at them. They can talk about each location, which child chose the snow globe, and what we did there. These are special treasures from their childhood that we display in every house we live in.
- Pros: Small snow globes are cheap and available in many gift shops. They make nice decorations. Kids think they are magical.
- Cons: They are fragile and can possibly break during PCS moves. They take up space and don’t have a useful purpose.
Every duty station has its own unique culture and climate. Try to bring a small piece of that into your home. We have a tea set I bought in Morocco, which my daughter has used to make mint tea. In Europe, military families collect wooden Christmas decorations from Germany, pottery from Spain, and handmade glass from Italy. In Japan, military families collect Shisa good luck charms or statues. Incirlik Air Base in Turkey has the most gorgeous oriental rugs. Even if your duty station is not foreign or exotic, try to find something from the local area that makes it unique. Whether it is a piece of furniture, a quilt, a pie plate, snow shoes, or a sun hat, find something that reminds you of the area so you can take a piece with you.
- Pros: You will have a unique souvenir and great stories to share with visitors who admire it.
- Cons: Depending what you choose, it might be expensive, fragile, or difficult to move. Try to find something that transports well.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.